More on term limits

As Massachusetts Senator-elect Scott Brown said in his victory speech on January 19, the American people are frustrated by a government that has become aloof to the voices of their constituents, and we can do better.

Term limits will improve the quality of our nation’s government, and diminish the quantity. The Founding Fathers’ great invention of the United States created the highest quality government ever seen on this world. The rise of career politicians has saddled the country with a quantity of government that cannot be sustained because it has become an engorged entity unrecognizable as government of the people, for the people, by the people.

From a speech by James L. Buckley, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. As a Republican-Conservative senator from New York, he was the lead plaintiff in Buckley v. Valeo, in which the Supreme Court struck down parts of the 1974 Federal Elections Campaign Act as unconstitutional. The American Conservative Union recently presented Buckley and the other plaintiffs—including Cato’s president Edward H. Crane—with its “Defender of the Constitution” award on the 25th anniversary of the filing of the case. Buckley delivered these remarks in accepting the award.

“I am persuaded that in the case of elected officials, the overwhelming temptation is to conclude that it is more important for your constituents that you be reelected than that you deal honestly with them. Hence the frequency with which legislators will yield to political pressures or expediency and vote against their convictions, especially when they can salve tender consciences by persuading themselves that a principled vote would not have affected the outcome. Given the difficulty of resisting such temptations over the longer run, a proper concern for the welfare of congressional souls may well be the ultimate argument in favor of term limitations.”

The full article originally appeared in the March/April 2000 edition of Cato Policy Report.

“To effectively end politics as a lifetime sinecure, thereby making congressional service a leave of absence from a productive, private-sector career, requires that terms be short.” Paul Bandow, 1995

“The nation’s Founders strongly believed in rotation in office. They left term limits out of the Constitution because they did not foresee that politics would become a career for so many people.” Paul Bandow, 1995

“Term limits reward real-world experience over back-room experience. They have reformed local government … around the nation by replacing professional politicians with citizen legislators who participate in local government out of a sense of civic duty.” Patrick Basham 2004

Rhode Island’s Roger Sherman wrote at the time of our nation’s founding: ‘‘Representatives ought to return home and mix with the people. By remaining at the seat of government, they would acquire the habits of the place, which might differ from those of their constituents.’’

Term limits have taken effect all over the country in state legislatures—term limits in states removed 1,536 legislators from office from 1996 to 2004.

● Term limits remain popular with state electorates long after their introduction.

● Term limits increase turnover in state legislatures.

● Term limits enable nontraditional candidates to run for seats in state legislatures. Hispanic, African-American, and Asian candidates find it easier to enter term-limited legislatures than non-term-limited bodies.

● Term limits weaken seniority systems in state legislatures.

● Lobbyists in term-limited states report that their job has become harder because they cannot establish long-term relationships with legislators.

● Term limits have not strengthened interest groups, state bureaucracies, or legislative staffs as predicted by critics of term limits.

Cato Institute 2008

“I used to believe the government was the answer to all our problems. But the … government, I’ve concluded, is now an insufferable jungle of self-serving bureaucrats.” Chet Huntley

“Freedom from those for whom re-election, associated salary and benefits, and the ability to reward their friends are the most important elements of public service.” Lynn Bergmen, director of Citizens for Responsible Government.

The “Paradox of Leadership” by Lynn Bergmen, director of Citizens for Responsible Government, exemplifies the type of dedication it’s going to take to see a Constitutional Amendment on term limits passed and implemented. These ten points have long decorated the refrigerator door in his home and he offers it to groups and individuals “having difficult dealings with the seeming unfairness of life.”

  1. People are illogical, unreasoning, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
  2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
  3. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
  4. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
  5. Honesty and frankness can make you vulnerable. Be honest anyway.
  6. The biggest people with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest people with the smallest ideas. Think big anyway.
  7. People favor underdogs, but follow the top dogs. Fight for the underdogs anyway.
  8. What you spend years building can be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
  9. People who need help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway.

10.  Give the world the best you have and you get kicked in the teeth. Give your best anyway.

“True leaders know the right thing is reward in itself, and eventually other rewards and recognition will follow.” Lynn Bergmen, director of Citizens for Responsible Government.

“There is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talent.” Thomas Jefferson

President Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, Jan. 27, 2010

“ … what frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day. We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent – a belief that if you lose, I win. Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can. The confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators. Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game. But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government.”

In opening remarks during his address to the House Republicans at their January 2010 annual retreat, Obama criticized a Washington culture driven by opinion polls and nonstop political campaigns.

“But I don’t believe that the American people want us to focus on our job security, they want us to focus on their job security,” he said.

“If we finally fail in this great and glorious contest, it will be by bewildering ourselves in groping for the middle way.”

-John Adams, 1776

It appears to me that the high ground in American politics is competent, fiscally responsible stewardship of the people’s country and an end to the corruption of insider deals. It’s not about far-fetched theories or any of that. It’s about the average American Joe and Jane being furious at the arrogance, self-dealing, and lack of responsibility by their elected officials. It’s about the American public saying ‘enough is enough” and not a penny more until you prove that you can spend what you’ve already grabbed from our pockets responsibly.

Be not intimidated… nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties by any pretense of politeness, delicacy, or decency. These, as they are often used, are but three different names for hypocrisy, chicanery and cowardice. — John Adams


About zingstrom

Journalist, free-lance writer, photographer and aviator.
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